Saturday 22 June 2013

A Day for Dwarf Shrubs

The rhododendron is in full flower in the Castle grounds and looking quite magnificent. However, the common rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum) is not always so welcome out in the wider countryside where it can spread through woodland swamping other vegeatation completely until there is nothing left but the rhododendron. It looks good at this time of the year, but it's not a good wildlife habitat at all.

But there are other native shrubs that are flowering just now. They are a lot smaller than rhododendron, but they don't take over, and provide much more for our birds and animals.

Here are the flowers of cowberry, an evergreen shrub of woodland and moorland, and blaeberry (or bilberry in England), which is deciduous. Both of these flowers will eventually turn to fruit. We know and love the blaeberry, but so do many other creatures - lots of birds and some mammals including pine martens and badgers. The cowberry has a red berry which is not so tasty to us (though not poisonous), but still important for other creatures.

Round ball-shaped flowers of the blaeberry
 In addition the bushes provide food for many insects, which then provide food for birds, especially chicks which need protein to develop. The capercaillie feeds its chicks on caterpillars from blaeberry bushes
These shrubs also provide great shelter, particularly for ground-nesting birds.

Bell-shaped flowers of the cowberry

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